Adam Peterson


The birds know, they shiver with it. They see the way we’re going out of our way to touch and have noticed that I’ve borrowed so many lighters, I’m a fire hazard. But that’s okay, because you keep tapping my shoulder and asking for my water. These are the victories we celebrate with pyrrhic hugs. Congratulations on successfully breathing, I say. You say, Yes, I wasn’t sure until just now. But thank you. Let’s hug about it.

We protect each, in this way. Because there is always a reason to touch, even when it’s just that there are birds in the tree above our bench and so we better sit closer just in case, they want to come down

Then there’s the way we’re always asking each other, Are you cold? and trading our coats back and forth. Still I shiver. The birds see this, too, and when they do sit down I have to grasp their necks to silence my hands. This, of course, means I have to grab your neck, too. And I don’t know if you know why, or if you think I’m just strangling you politely because I don’t want you to think that this is just about the birds. In some ways it is. Most ways.

I wouldn’t even know about birds if it weren’t for you, and sometimes, when you pass a note that says STARLING into my hand, I think you invented them. What is there to say about them, and why do you keep trying? Maybe because without them my hands shiver even though it isn’t cold.

Tell me I can borrow your last coat, and you can borrow mine.

Tell me is not our fault we keep dropping the birds.

Tell me there aren't birds. Tell me congratulations.

Tell me why my hands, when they’re empty, they can’t stand still and why when they’re full of your hands, they can’t stay still.

When we finally run out of excuses to touch, when we thaw ourselves around the burning coats, when I throw the lighters in one by one, when the birds return to their poems, my hands will have to hold each other and find a way not to tremble.


The Terror’s got the sads again, and he doesn’t know why. But she comes in whistling as if it weren’t snowing, as if it hadn’t been snowing for months or even years, as if things aren’t getting worse but it’s impossible to know how much when The Terror can’t remember good.

How long has it been? The Terror asks.

She says, What?

The Terror doesn’t remember what he was asking about or who she is. Some days he thinks she’s his wife and that he should take her in his arms and kiss her and watch the snow, warm together. Some days he thinks she’s a virgin and that he should take her in his arms and bite her throat and watch the snow, warm alone.

Rare days he knows she’s his nurse and that that’s why she’s giving him pills and checking his blood pressure and refusing to explain to him how it is monsters get old and sick, too.

I feel, he says to her, like I should be hurting something right now.

She tightens his chains, but all he really wants to know is whether or not he’s right to have that feeling or if he should be ashamed. He’s a little ashamed. Even monsters never get old enough to forget shame.

I feel, he tries again on the same day or a different day but definitely a snowy day, like you’re not as afraid of me as you should be.

You’ve got the sads again, she says and brings him a tray with a possum on it.

The Terror is fairly confident she would not be bringing him possums if he were not The Terror

Sometimes old friends come and shake the snow from their cloaks or their skin or their fur in one long shiver. The Terror sits up in his bed and asks questions they either don’t know the answers to or don’t want to.

What’s that static in my mind? Did I defeat the hero? Whatever happened to the girl?

His friends say nothing and don’t stay long, making excuses about the moon or their bloodlust in the presence of the nurse. The Terror reaches out for them with his free hand, still strong enough to hold them for just long enough to ask, Was it something in the blood?

Despair, he’s certain, is the wrong feeling. His body holds other mysteries. There’s something he’s lost and no reason he knows why it can’t come back. But even though he remembers little, he’s certain he was only good at the opposite of healing. Out the window, the snow clings desperately to the thin claws of the dead trees and the Terror cries out. The window shatters and the snow comes in and he’s so frightened by the touch of it on his skin that he rises, breaks his chains, hears the nurse run, remembers something about the last calm moment of the night.

Adam Peterson is the author of the flash fiction collections The Flasher, My Untimely Death, and, with Laura Eve Engel, [SPOILER ALERT]. His fiction can be found in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Normal School, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.